Legislation congressionally authorizing the historic settlement of the Cobell v. Salazar case won final approval from the U.S. House Tuesday, sending the measure to the White House where President Obama is expected to sign it into law.
U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), who chairs the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, described the action as "historic" and a "victory for justice."
"For over a century, the federal government mismanaged, lost, and even stole billions of dollars it held in trust for individual American Indians. Final congressional approval of the Cobell v Salazar settlement is long overdue and historic. But it is much more than that. It is a victory for justice."
As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Dorgan pushed hard to obtain Congressional approval of the settlement. Congressional approval was required to ensure that the federal court has jurisdiction over both the trust fund mismanagement claims and the land mismanagement claims.
For the past 15 years the case was stuck in court, delaying settlement payments to American Indians and costing American tax payers ever more in litigation costs. For more than 10 years of this litigation, federal courts repeatedly found that the government had violated its trust obligations to American Indians. Nearly a year ago, plaintiffs and the federal government reached an agreement to settle the case for $3.4 billion.
Dorgan argued that the settlement should be quickly approved, to end the decades of taxpayer funded litigation, and provide some amount of justice to American Indians, many of whom passed away while the case was stuck in court. Continued litigation, he said, only delayed justice for Native Americans and costs taxpayers millions of more dollars.
The Settlement Agreement resolves the claims of the individual Indians and closes this sad chapter in American history, Dorgan said. It also allows the Department of the Interior and Indians to move forward. Going forward, the Secretary of the Interior is also required to establish a Commission to ensure that practices which allowed the mismanagement and theft of Native American assets be corrected so such losses are never repeated, Dorgan noted.